Time Is Now For Another Cup Run For The Blackhawks

As the season rolls on, there seems to be three schools of thought on the fate of the Chicago Blackhawks.

1. The team is not as good as their record: When injuries hit and the schedule gets more difficult the Hawks will slide in the standings.

2. The Hawks are focused on trying to get through the season to gain a top four seeding in the playoffs: The core of the team will find a way to do enough so there is no danger of missing the playoffs. Once in the post season, they will intensify their efforts for a Stanley Cup run.

3. The Blackhawks are one of the five best teams in the NHL: With a tweak or two to the roster they will be a true Cup contender when the playoffs begin.

There is some truth in each of the scenarios.

As things take shape this season, option three makes more sense, although the Blackhawks don’t wow me with consistently strong efforts. In the big picture, they have as much high-end talent as any club. The Hawks also have younger players who benefit from the experience and confidence of already winning the grand prize. That is a big advantage over most others.

The second option is believed by some who have played in the NHL. The thinking is the Hawks are able to pace themselves to have enough gas in the tank to make a deep playoff run. The strategy seems dangerous, but the season is long and grueling. Players don’t get up equally for every opponent, and the Hawks, as a group, appear to measure their efforts.

The first scenario rings true in some ways too. The next six weeks will be telling as the opponents get more difficult. The advantage for the Hawks is there are many home games through the end of January. For now, the Blackhawks deserve the benefit of the doubt, as they are a top club until proven otherwise.

The Blackhawks will be in Minnesota Wednesday to face the Wild. The Wild, largely not expected to make the playoffs at the beginning of the season, have been a surprise and currently sit atop the NHL with 43 points, three more than the Hawks.

One game doesn’t decide superiority, and this will be a battle of opposites. The Hawks like to run and gun while the Wild play things close to the vest. The Wild would like to score more, but they have been successful anyway. The Hawks would like to give up fewer goals, but so far they keep winning.

Minnesota has been successful under rookie head coach Mike Yeo by working hard in all three zones. The Wild employ a solid defensive structure with strong goal keeping. They don’t count on skating up and down the ice outscoring an opponent. The Wild rely on outworking the competition and normally winning low-scoring games.

The Wild are led by the talented and underrated Mikko Koivu, who has 27 points. His total is five fewer then the Hawks’ leading scorer, Jonathan Toews, who has played one less game. The next top scorer for Minnesota is newcomer Dany Heatley who has nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points. Heatley is the leading goal scorer on the Wild and his nine tallies is eight less than Blackhawks goal leader Toews, who has 17 markers. The Wilds notorious pest, Cal Clutterbuck, leads the NHL with four shorthanded goals.

As is evident, the Wild won’t wow anyone with offense, but they have two top goal keepers. Niklas Backstrom and the injured Josh Harding have strong .932 save percentages. Backstrom saw action Tuesday night as the Wild traveled to Winnipeg and lost 2-1. Backstrom might play again Wednesday, but if not, Matt Hackett will be between the pipes due to the injury to Harding.

Hackett is the nephew of former Blackhawk goalie tender Jeff Hackett. The youngster has done well in two games this season — boasting a perfect record. Hackett has recorded a .974 save percentage with a 1.01 GAA.

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Next article will be posted tomorrow morning.

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